A seasonal meditation
You’ve probably seen my article, Satan orders man to kill birthers, by now. It was one of those National Enquirer-style articles with the most sensational headline I could make. It was originally published in my Wild & Wacky category. The article included a most un-flattering photo of Adam Cox (now replaced), the Tennessee man who made a number of death threats on a birther blog, aimed at Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona and some other prominent birthers. I highlighted the mention of “Satan” for a sensationalist effect.
Then something happened: Adam Cox commented on the article here. Suddenly the cartoon Adam Cox in the article became the real human being Adam Cox. Panic! What had I said? Besides treating something serious (a death threat) like a tabloid story, I don’t think I mislead anyone or tried to make anyone view Cox any more negatively than they would from any other presentation of the same facts. I was off the hook. Still, that moment of panic is instructive.
I’ve had the opportunity to shake hands with Dean Haskins and Christopher Stunk, and I have at least been in the room with other birthers, notably Orly Taitz [I subsequently spoke on the phone with Taitz]. That experience makes them less like cartoons and more like people too.
The online medium is essentially different from real life in that online exchanges lack social cues – facial expressions, tone of voice – that let us know when we’re going too far. It’s easy for emails exchanges spiral out of control, but it is even easier to say things one shouldn’t when we don’t even expect the targets of our speech to read it.
When we write something online it probably bears remembering that our family and friends may see it, our boss and co-workers may see it, the person we’re writing about may see it, and should we someday run for President, the whole world may see it.